Poesy of Philosophy

Continent Francesco Forte

Intellection uttered is no more than a falsehood while tao verbalized is tao no more. Once a phi­losophic conclusion is written down, thus becoming a “Fixed Formula,” its truth is immediately lost. Perhaps, it becomes another stepping stone on the way to discovering dimensions yet unknown. If so, it’s a never-ending story, though, according to atheism, limited by the human brain’s life span. Francesco Forte, our columnist and Consul General of Italy in Moscow, dwells upon his passion for philosophy, quantum physics and Dante Alighieri.

I cannot call myself happy in the common sense of the word, i.e. rejoicing at getting a brand new car, having a date, or enjoying a glass of good wine. These “interests” actually distract us from the only and truest pleasure we can have, which is our own and very personal experience of life, unrepeatable and unique. And, strange as it may seem, I believe that the mystery of death holds in itself the hidden meaning of life. Each of us reaches this “boundary” with a unique wealth of knowledge and experience accumulated “en route.” Mine is the Great Thinkers of the past, my Virgils saving me from the coppice. 

Dante is poetry, but it is not what’s become my passion. My passion is Philosophy. Each & every kind of it. A while ago I watched a wonderful YouTube discourse on Quantum Field Theory. It, too, is Philosophy. Other “embodiments” of Philosophy are called mathematics, ethics, epistemology, cosmology, to name just a few. Philosophy is all around us. We immerse ourselves in it whenever we endeavor to understand something. Everything we want to make sense of is part and parcel of Philosophy. Interpreting the Greek word φιλοσοφία as “desire to know / understand” rather than accepting the traditional rendering, i.e. “love of knowledge / wisdom” makes a lot more sense to me. Philosophy is the burning yearning to understand things, no matter the structure of human conscience or the environment. The subject of study does not matter. It can be anything, e.g. quantum physics which I am passionately in love with.

What does Dante have to do with that? Well, there are pansophic, i.e. encyclopedic works, like “The Illiad” and “The Odyssey” attributed to Homer. A great sage (as the story goes) was inspired to put all the contemporary knowledge and that of the previous times into a single work of epic poetry. “The Illiad” is about everything, from the way the Greeks waged war to the way they built ships and forged metals. Linguistic analysis of “Homer’s” descriptions proves that “The Illiad” combines information from & about different historical periods. For example, the cast iron and wrought iron production tech­nologies date back to different centuries, but they are part of the same text. It makes sense only in a pansophic work, elaborated through decades, if not centuries. That’s the essence & purpose of “The Illiad.”

Coming back to Dante, “The Divine Comedy” allows us to give a philosophic rendering of anything & everything. So deep and vast is this “ocean,” that you can get whatever you want by finding a line of reasoning and restoring cause & effect ties. My Dante Readings aim neither at reading “The Divine Comedy” from cover to cover nor at unveiling its message. Such a study would take at least two or three years of hard work. The poem is just an excuse, a starting point for me to go wherever I want to take my listeners in order to wonder about something I want to discuss it in a “problematic” way.

The journey through “Inferno” is very dynamic. We see various situa­tions, monsters, devils, ghosts, and souls suffering. At that, we feel a kind of satisfaction. Those sinners spread violence & lies thinking themselves smart enough to avoid paying for their evil actions. They deceived a lot of people, but one day it was over, and none could escape judgment & punishment. Dante makes us share his feeling of satisfaction with the Victory of Justice. As we go deeper we see more clearly how much the poet despises liars & violators. He depicts them naked dabbling in pools of excrements to show how disgusting their essence is. At this point Dante’s language is not elegant at all. The poet is outspoken calling a spade a spade & a whore a whore as he wants the reader to perceive them as such. Meanwhile, evil-doers’ victims can rest assured knowing about the inevitable Reckoning awaiting their offenders. That’s what is good about “Inferno.”

Nevertheless, my favorite part of “The Divine Comedy” is “Purgatory” because it’s very much about what I call “the Challenge of Ethics,” i.e. the difficulty of exercising virtues. The Mount of Purgatory is populated in its bottom section, Ante-Purgatory, by the Excommuni­cate and the Late-Repentant who died, often violently, before receiving rites. Climbing the Mount with Dante, we see what a challenge it is for a soul to go through the Seven Purges.

“Paradise,” for all the elegance of its language, is less interesting to me. This Cantica contains a lot of theology of the time such as the famous fruit eating & its conse­quences, a must-have faith in the Christian story, etc., which is no more really relevant to many of our contemporaries. That’s why I consider “Purgatory” the most exciting part of the poem.

I cannot say there is a “life philosophy” or a “central philosophy” for me to follow. In my view, once you fall in love with Philosophy you surrender to it heart & soul forever. You try to work out your own vision of things weaving a web of conclusions and a network of pos­sible perspectives. To my understanding, and that’s what I really appreciate about Philosophy, once you really get into it, the first thing you know is that the idea of truth is gone with the wind. You understand there is no truth as such. There is only a vision or a presentation that may be perceived to be the truth. It’s an on-going process with nothing definite or fixed within it. The moment you verbalise something, you fix it, making the idea your own & subjective. As soon as it happens, the objective truth disappears. For example, if we say the Universe is a field inter­acting with other fields, we lose track of the reality behind these things as a priori we cannot possibly imagine infinity of the Universe. Friedrich Nietzsche, one of my favorites, formulated it as Perspectivism. 

As a matter of fact, my best friends are the philosophers I love so much: Aristotle, Plato, and, above all, Kant, the best of the best, the thinker who foresaw in the ­XVIIIth century the experimental evidences of modern quantum physics. Each of them is an encyclopedia. With them I can discuss absolutely everything. We always have things to talk about. They never betray or let me down. They are always there for me to give me their views of most difficult & topical questions. “Physical” friends cannot always be by my side. I cannot call them every day or any time. When I move (for my work every 4 years) I inevitably leave them behind. Meanwhile, my “Fantasy Friends” are always with me. We talk a lot, and I can share all my secrets with them. Still, I could never make friends with Freud. Unreliable fellow, you know! 

I don’t believe in God, whatever this word means. Nonetheless, if I had a chance to ask God just one question, I guess, I would definitely ask something about physics, most likely, the Nature of Space or the Principle of Locality, i.e. a thing being & not being at a place at the same time. Something like, “Are you a Quantum God? / Is God quantum? Is this Your Nature?